Citizen pressure on Internet freedom begins to yield results
The past few months have been absolutely integral when it comes to citizen action fueling the still-raging debate surrounding net neutrality and American Internet freedom. Inexplicably, the two subjects have begun to feed into each other – while net neutrality is merely preventing major Internet Service Providers from establishing a "fast lane" of the Internet and thereby limiting access to startups and other Web projects, Internet freedom is threatened by stemming the ability to access these sites.
Thanks to some targeted advocacy, citizens have grown furious at the potential of missing out on the next Facebook or Twitter, both of which began as smaller startups and are vehemently opposed to overturning neutrality. After the seemingly dubious Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act passed through the Senate in recent days, Americans who believe in the preservation of neutrality and freedom finally have something to celebrate.
Citizen advocacy crashes the system
The Federal Communications Commission, a major player in determining the direction of American net neutrality, opened its website to comments regarding their pending net neutrality policies earlier in the spring, and only received a sprinkling of messages. This all changed when comedian and former "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver touted the comments section on his new political satire show "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," which went viral and sparked a response so fast and intense that the FCC website temporarily crashed from increased traffic.
Following this massive promotional push, citizens have continued to post their opinions and even "troll" the FCC complaints board, according to The Guardian, and the Commission had to extend its deadline for citizens to share their thoughts. This extension was made due to increased interest in the message board in the hours leading up to its submission deadline this past Tuesday at midnight, while existing comments loomed around 780,000 total.
Guardian Contributor Dan Gillmor wrote that the FCC has said they will review each and every complaint by this September before reaching a final decision on the matter, when the hearing will rule in favor of major ISPs like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, or in favor of preserving the open Internet.
U.S. Senators begin to show support for neutrality
Although political figures like Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein are spearheading potentially freedom-reducing pieces of legislation like the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, other Senators have stepped up to the plate in defense of the public. Al Franken, a Democrat in Minnesota, wrote a letter to FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler regarding AT&T in particular, and voiced his concerns about putting the neutrality of the Internet into further jeopardy in the interest of profit.
"AT&T has committed to voluntarily abide by the FCC's now-vacated 2010 Open Internet Order for three years if this deal is approved," Franken wrote. "However, AT&T has a history of skirting the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of that Order. For example, AT&T allegedly has blocked applications that compete with its own voice messaging services."
Franken's camp hasn't received a response from Wheeler or the FCC that has been documented, but the comedy writer turned Senator (Franken wrote for "Saturday Night Live" for 25 years) received a great deal of positive support from Minnesotans and other Internet freedom and neutrality advocates across the country.
In spite of the massive social movement the legal issues surrounding the American state of the Internet have spurred, it's still impossible to say which way neutrality is headed. With CISA well on its way to enabling the American government to potentially spy on citizens with ease and legality and the "fast lane" slated to be up for discussion in the Senate after the August recess, the citizen's battle is far from over.